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Apodaca: We must preserve public education

December 31, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

By many measures, 2011 was a momentous year.

Osama bin Laden was finally tracked down and killed. The Arab Spring uprisings toppled ruthless regimes. The Eurozone's unity was sorely tested. The Occupy protest movement swept across America.

Closer to home, Costa Mesa became a key battleground in the municipal belt-tightening wars. The Newport-Mesa public schools chief was charged with three felony counts that could send him to jail. And a group of teenagers launched an effort to preserve a cherished local icon, the Balboa Fun Zone.

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2012 will be another year of great import, for no other reason than it is an election year. That voters are discontented is not in question; only the outcome of their response to that frustration remains to be seen.

But if this is destined to be a pivotal year, I put to readers that they must consider one issue above all others: the fate of our public schools.

The situation bears reviewing. California schools, from primary grades to public universities, were once the envy of the world. They created generations of well-educated workers, bolstered the economy, pushed living standards higher, and burnished the reputation of the Golden State.

Those days are long gone.

Our public school system is in shambles, with ratings and per-student spending near the bottom of the education barrel. Districts throughout the state are on the brink of insolvency. Programs have been eliminated, departments reduced to bare-bones status, and classrooms packed beyond capacity. Staff members take on extra work for no extra pay; teachers buy supplies with their own money.

Even the vaunted University of California system, long considered the crown jewel among public universities, is collapsing under the strain of funding cutbacks, creating the bitterest of ironies: California kids who can't afford to attend the schools that were built for them.

Absent a sudden reprieve, it's all about to go from bad to worse.

The state's dire financial condition, coupled with a dispiriting lack of spine by our leaders, could force another round of cutbacks in our schools. That would be akin to attaching blood-sucking leeches to a critically ill patient.

Even recent glimmers of hope are tinged with desperation. California faces a $13-billion budget deficit, but year-end revenues were strong enough to dodge automatic cuts that would have resulted in the hacking a week off the K-12 school year.

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